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Council Could Landmark Former Bank Building with Iconic Santa Monica Mural  

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By Niki Cervantes
Staff Writer

March 23, 2017 -- The former Home Savings Building in Santa Monica, a signature design of famed California artist Millard Sheets, heads back to the City Council Tuesday for a decision on whether to grant it the protections of an official landmark.

Staff is recommending the council grant local landmark status to the 1970 building at 2600 Wilshire Boulevard, which is known for its post-WWII welding of strictly commercial enterprises and elaborate works of art, with an intent to capture the essence of a community.

For Santa Monica’s branch at 26th and Wilshire, that meant a bold design in which “the arms of the building were brought forward to embrace the corner,” one expert said, and a main entrance featuring an intricate but playful mosaic mural of “pleasures along the beach.”

Millard Sheets Mural
Millard Sheets mosaic on Wilshire Boulevard (Courtesy of the USC Digital Library)

The mural -- 40 feet by 16-and-a-half feet -- is above the entry, and is one of the largest ever produced by Sheets for Home Savings. The building also features stained-glass and bronze sculptures that depict a family playing in the surf and a child with dolphins.

“Confirm the landmark status of this building,” said a letter to the council from Adam Arenson, a California native and associate professor of history and director of urban studies at Manhattan College in New York.

“It represents the height of the Sheets Studio commissions for Home Savings, integrating architecture, mosaic, stained glass, sculptures, and interior design elements,” Arenson wrote.

It is the second time the council takes up the building's landmark status. Last November, it voted unanimously to overturn the Landmark Commission's 2013 decision for to designate the building because of possible procedural issues, sending back to the panel for a second review ("Santa Monica Shoe Store’s Landmark Status Heads Back to Commission," November 8, 2016) .

Last month, the seven-member Commission fell one vote short of the four needed for landmark designation when three members failed to show. The decision was appealed to the council by the Santa Monica Conservancy.

The branch is one of the most prominent of the 40 buildings Sheets designed for Home Savings and Loan between the 1950s and 1970s. It is also the only example of Sheets’ work in Santa Monica, experts say.

Home Savings closed the branch and sold the building in 2000. It has been used commercially since then.

Sheets himself once called the 26th and Wilshire branch “one of the poorer buildings” he’d designed during that period. He was also quoted as not being happy with the mosaic’s rectangular design.

Others in the arts also have had harsh words for the Home Savings building Sheets' created.

In his council letter, Arenson recalled an artist, who produced a pressed-tin mural for a downtown Los Angeles Home Savings branch in 1988, telling him Sheets' work was "vapid."

But the artist, Tony Berlant, said he had come to feel more regard for the Santa Monica branch over time.

Berlant said the building was a lesson on how "public works of art age, and carry with them the scent of another time.

They become part of the landscape, and "you own them experientially, and don't know the name, and that is really kinda terrific."

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